Seeing is Believing By Sasha L. Miller Published by Less Than Three Press All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews. Edited by London Burden Cover designed by London Burden http://www.wix.com/leburden/imaginingdesigns This book is a work of fiction and as such all characters and situations are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental. First Electronic Edition April 2011 Copyright © 2011 by Sasha L. Miller Printed in the United States of America ISBN 978-1-936202-70-6 .
Table of Contents Secret Admiration . 5 Jailbreak . 29 Courting a Dragon . 65 The Western Witch . 73 Seeking Haven . 114 No Regrets . 120 Seeing . 130 A Fairy, a Wizard, and a Blacksmith . 164 Fishy Bits . 176 The Guardian Dragon . 197 The Strawberry Fairy . 215 .
Secret Admiration There were roses waiting for Teofil when he got home. Three dozen, give or take a blossom, in a vivid shade of red that seemed almost unnatural. They were carefully arranged in a vase that had probably cost more than the roses, decorated cleverly with a matching ribbon tied in the shape of a heart. Teofil stared at the roses, exasperated and unnerved. The roses were the third silent, expensive gift to find its way inside his house. He'd locked the door this morning, he knew it—he'd been double-checking the lock ever since the decadent, intricately carved chocolates had shown up in a wooden, heart-shaped box. None of his neighbors admitted to seeing anything, but whoever was behind this was obviously well off; he wouldn't be surprised if his neighbors had been bribed to say nothing. Staring at the roses for another moment, Teofil finally stepped into his tiny house and shut the door behind him. Clicking the lock into place behind him made him feel a bit better, but not much. Obviously the lock wasn't a great deterrent to whoever was secretly giving him gifts. Romantic gifts, too. There was no doubt about the intent behind the presents. Heart-shaped gift boxes, expensive flowers … Teofil scowled at the roses, wondering what he should do with them. The chocolates he'd brought to the shop; he couldn't do that with the roses, Wystan would never let him hear the end of it. Bad enough that he'd admitted the source of the chocolates. His mother would get suspicious if he gave her another expensive gift after passing the exotic fruits on to her … He'd have to keep them until they withered. Teofil scowled at the flowers, dropping his bag next to the kitchen door and moving around the kitchen collecting anything tall enough to serve as a makeshift vase. He'd keep them, but they'd be less ostentatious if he separated them into smaller bunches. The entire thing would be so much easier to deal with if he just knew something about who was behind it. No one had given him the faintest clue they were interested, though. Teofil worked in one of the most popular jewelry shops in the city, so he saw his fair share of wealthy lords, ladies, and merchants, but none of them paid any special attention to Wystan's assistant. He was an assistant jewelry maker, not very popular yet even if Wystan said he had promise. Teofil sighed, shaking his head ruefully as he nimbly separated roses from the large bouquet. He wasn't the prettiest of Wystan's employees either. That distinction went to the shop clerk Wystan had hired so they could work exclusively on refining their jewels and creating jewelry. 5 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .
Scrubbing a hand through is hair, Teofil filled the last of his impromptu vases with four of the beautiful roses. There were still a dozen flowers in the original vase, but Teofil didn't have the dishes to sacrifice for any more vases. At least the last dozen weren't as overwhelming as the original bouquet had been. Distributing the smaller vases around the room, Teofil studied them critically. Hopefully whoever his secret admirer was, they'd give up soon. Teofil did not want to be the plaything for some bored, rich noble. With his luck it was probably Lord Giarth, with three rolls of fat and his fourth wife, always in need of having his jewelry expanded to accommodate his increasing girth. And that thought was going to give him nightmares tonight. Making a face, Teofil gave the crystal vase on his kitchen table a last dirty look before moving to put together dinner for himself. *~*~* Teofil studied the set of jewels contemplatively, nudging one of the tiny rubies a millimeter closer to its neighbor. The piece was missing something. It was a collection of tiny rubies and even smaller emeralds, all with amazing clarity and each shaped into a perfect oval. The lady who owned the jewels had commissioned somethingshe didn't particularly care what—in the Eastern fashion, which meant working the tiny jewels into a fine silver net to hang about her throat. "Is that the piece for Lady Pennal?" Wystan asked, startling Teofil enough that he almost upset the tray of jewels. Shooting his boss a dirty look, Teofil immediately flushed when he realized Wystan had brought a customer into the back room. Lord Cafon … something, marquis … of something, if Teofil wasn't mistaken—which he very well could be, considering that he couldn't remember most of the man's name. He was wearing rubies; simple studs in his ears, a studded choker barely visible beneath the collar of his coat, and a few rings flashed from his fingers. "Good afternoon, my lord," Teofil greeted a little stiffly. Wystan snickered at him, leaning over his shoulder to nudge the bottom rows of jewels to a corner of the tray. "Try that," Wystan advised, and Teofil sighed, frowning at the new arrangement. It was better. "Bracelet or earrings for the extra?" Teofil asked, already working out a complimentary pattern for the extra jewels. "Whichever," Wystan dismissed, turning back to his customer. "This way, my lord." Teofil shook his head, smiling a little as Wystan led Lord Cafon further into the workroom. He wouldn't particularly mind Cafon being his secret admirer, except that Cafon was caught up in an infamous five- year relationship with his fellow marquis, Lord Rathiel Forsycthe. Teofil dismissed his silly thoughts, focusing on rearranging the lady's jewels and not on the handsome, soft-spoken noble conversing with Wystan on whether earrings, rings, or cufflinks were the best present for his upcoming anniversary. 6 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .
He managed to so distract himself that he didn't realize Wystan had returned to the front of the store and left Cafon behind until the noble spoke up from behind him. "Do you like roses?" Cafon asked, and Teofil nearly upset the tray, he turned so quickly. "What?" Teofil asked, barely breathing as he stared at Cafon. He couldn't be behind the gifts; he had his by-all-accounts deeply passionate relationship with Forsycthe. Cafon gestured to the tray in front of him, a teasing smile playing about his lips and making his clear blue eyes even brighter. "That is going to be a rose, is it not?" "Oh!" Teofil blushed, wanting to smack himself for his stupidity. "Yes, it will be." "So," Cafon said, leaning against Teofil's work table. "You like roses?" "The lady I'm making it for does," Teofil said, hoping he wasn't wrong. Perhaps Cafon knew whoever was sending him gifts and was trying to get a feel for Teofil's reaction. Or maybe he was getting paranoid in his old age. Of twenty-five, but still. "Of course," Cafon agreed easily. Teofil dropped his gaze to the tray of neatly arranged jewels. If he worked exclusively on this piece, he could probably finish it today, despite the elegant, difficult silver mesh he'd have to create for the jewels to rest in. "Are you seeing anyone?" Cafon asked. Teofil's head shot up and he gave the man an incredulous look. Cafon was here for his anniversary gift, for god's sake! "Oh, no, not like that!" Cafon objected, his face turning faintly pink along the ridge of his cheekbones. "Just, I'm not sure my gift is appropriate and I was hoping you could help." Teofil blushed again, covering his eyes with his hand in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—" "No, it's all right," Cafon dismissed, laughing ruefully. "I could have phrased that better." "What are you thinking of getting?" Teofil asked, carefully setting down Lady Pennal's jewels. "He doesn't wear much jewelry," Cafon said, smiling fondly. Teofil ignored the pang of jealously—he'd find someone like that eventually. Perhaps after his stupid admirer problem was sorted out. "Rings occasionally, earrings always, and cufflinks if the occasion demands it." "Rings would have the most significance," Teofil pointed out. "He'd also be less likely to wear a ring," Cafon said, lifting his shoulder in an elegant shrug. "Even if you gave it?" Teofil asked, not sure Cafon had considered the import of such a gift. Teofil didn't wear jewelry, but he'd make an exception if it was a gift from someone he cared about. 7 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .
"Perhaps." Cafon didn't seem too convinced. "But also, I gave him a ring last year." "I would advise against cufflinks, unless they have some special significance," Teofil offered. "They're too practical to make a good gift." Cafon laughed brightly. "That is what Master Friesot said." "He taught me everything I know," Teofil pointed out with a smile. "I'm sure he told you everything I have." "You're closer to Rath's age, though," Cafon said, smiling at him happily. "And I'd be surprised to find you without a romantic attachment." Teofil rolled his eyes. "No romantic attachments, my lord. Wystan's probably more help on that end. He's busy trying to woo the widow who runs the bakery down the street." Cafon laughed delightedly, a brief flash of… something crossing his face. "Don't be telling customers tales about my love life, Teo," Wystan chided cheerfully as he bustled back into the workroom, carrying a tray of jewelry. "Or I'll break out the stories of your romance." "I have no romance," Teofil denied flatly, belatedly remembering that Wystan knew of his secret admirer and found it hilarious. "Now Teo, don't be such a stick in the mud," Wystan teased, winking at Cafon. "You're being wooed, admit it." "I don't know what you're talking about," Teofil denied again, feeling his cheeks heat. "Don't you have customers to tend?" "That's what I've got you and Salib for," Wystan replied. "You don't mind if Teofil fills your order, do you, my lord?" Teofil bit back a protest. Doing the piece for Cafon would certainly get his name out more, and he couldn't protest that. Besides, Cafon was nice, and it would be a pleasant change to work on a gift rather than on a piece to show up this or that lady's most recent set of jewels. "That sounds wonderful," Cafon agreed with a smile. "Do you have time to work with me today? Or should I come back tomorrow?" "Oh, um," Teofil stammered, rearranging the projects he had line up. "Now's fine. Did you want earrings or a ring?" "Earrings," Cafon said promptly, smiling as Wystan set down the tray he'd brought in with him. "I gave him a ring last year, I'd be pushing my luck with a second." 8 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .
"I think that was a ring Teofil designed, if I remember it correctly," Wystan mused thoughtfully, making Teofil's cheeks heat again as Cafon looked at him with renewed interest. "Gold with an outlying band of silver? Studded with diamonds?" "That's it," Cafon said, obviously pleased that Wystan recalled it. Teofil fought not to fidget; that ring had been one of the first designs that Wystan hadn't tweaked before he created it. "Maybe something to match that? I assume you can get more diamonds to match?" "Of course," Teofil assured him, smiling a little. "What type of earrings does he wear the most? Studs?" "Studs and small hoops," Cafon answered, looking thoughtful. "Can you incorporate some colorful jewel in there? Maybe instead of diamonds?" "What do you have in mind?" Teofil asked, studying the jewelry Wystan had brought in. None of it really suited, too colorful or flashy. "He's got a hint of green in his eyes. I'd love to bring it out." "I don't know how much small earrings would be able to do that," Teofil demurred, wondering if he could create a small hoop earring with the same band design but substitute emeralds or another jewel for diamonds. "That's true," Cafon said, sighing regretfully before smiling again. "I'll settle for it matching the ring, then." "Shall I create some designs for you?" Teofil suggested. "I can do a mock up of a few different styles, some incorporating green jewels if you like." "That sounds good," Cafon accepted. "How long have you been working here?" "Five years," Teofil answered absently, already sorting through earring designs that might fit with what he knew of Rathiel and the design of the ring he'd created last year. Cafon whistled softly. "Little wonder you're so good at this then." "Wystan's a good teacher, no matter what I say to his face," Teofil replied with a straight face, getting a half-hearted mutter of complaint from across the workroom where Wystan was lost in some design or another. Cafon laughed, his eyes bright with mirth. "Would I be out of line if I asked who's wooing you?" Teofil sighed, making a note to tease Wystan viciously about his baker later. "You can ask," Teofil said, shrugging. "I can't tell you, though. I don't really think it counts as wooing if I don't know who's behind it." "A secret admirer?" Cafon asked, lighting up, and Teofil groaned, wishing he hadn't said anything. "That's romantic." 9 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .
"It's annoying," Teofil refuted, flushing a little at how vehement that came out. He shouldn't be saying this to a customer either, not when he didn't know who was behind it. It wasn't Cafon, obviously, but he could easily know who it was or let something slip around the right person. Cafon looked incredulous and Teofil's cheeks got warmer. "I'd rather they'd be direct about it, is all," Teofil said lamely. "I hate not knowing." "Perhaps they can't?" Cafon suggested, looking pleased for whatever unfathomable reason the idea of a jewelry maker's assistant's secret admirer appealed to him. "They could be shy." Teofil shrugged, wondering if that was really the case. "Or they have some other reason they can't be open about it," he countered, a little surprised at how dejected he sounded about it. "I don't want to be someone's secret mistress." "But maybe—" Cafon began, but cut himself off with an elegant shrug. "My apologies. I admit, I hold a certain fondness for the idea of a secret admirer. It's how Rath and I began seeing each other." "Oh," Teofil said faintly, feeling stupider. "That's … Which one of you was the secret admirer?" "He was," Cafon said, grinning. "He was too shy to approach me directly." "How did you find out?" Teofil asked, interested despite himself. "One of his notes gave it away. He'd been in a hurry and written it himself. I recognized his handwriting and confronted him about it." Cafon raised his eyebrows. "No hints?" "No," Teofil admitted, sighing. "No notes, either." "Well, I'm sure it will sort itself out," Cafon assured him. Teofil shrugged, giving it another half-second's thought before focusing on his job again. "When would you like the designs, my lord?" Teofil asked. "Would tomorrow be too soon?" Cafon asked, smiling apologetically. "I have been remiss; our anniversary is in a week's time." "Tomorrow is fine," Teofil agreed, fighting a smile. It wouldn't be too much work to draw up the designs today. "Thank you," Cafon said, sounding a bit relieved. He stood nodding to Wystan. "I'll see you tomorrow, then." "Tomorrow," Teofil agreed, drawing out fresh paper on which to sketch the designs in his head. 10 | Sasha L. Miller – Seeing is Believing .